Last edited 26 Aug 2017

Grenfell Tower independent expert advisory panel

On 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, a block of flats in North Kensington, London. The fire started shortly before 1 am and engulfed the building within 15 minutes. 80 people are presumed dead, although the final figure is likely to be higher.

On 26 June 2017, in a statement to the House of Commons, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced the creation of an independent expert panel to advise the government on the fire. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/government-response-to-the-grenfell-tower-tragedy

Javid said:

It is clear that this failure must be understood; it must be rectified without delay, and the government is determined to ensure that happens. As an initial step I can inform the House today that I am establishing an independent expert advisory panel who will advise the government on any steps that should immediately be taken on fire safety. Further details of the panel including its members will be released shortly.

On 27 June 2017, Sajid Javid confirmed the panel would be chaired by Sir Ken Knight, former London Fire Commissioner and former Government Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/expert-panel-appointed-to-advise-on-immediate-safety-action-following-grenfell-fire

Core members of the panel include:

Sajid Javid said:

...I want to know if there are measures we can put in place now to keep people safe and I want them done immediately. I want the public to be confident everything possible is being done.

Dr Peter Bonfield said:

It is important that the best expertise from across our industry, the research communities, the professions and the public sector is drawn out to support the government and society at this critical time of need. I look forward to working with Sir Ken and drawing in expertise which will help address the challenges faced. I know that the will to positively contribute from professional bodies and others is strong and we will deploy this to support our work.

On 30 June, the panel released a statement saying:

The tests that are currently being conducted are a screening test to identify which Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels are of concern. It tests the filler – the core of the panel – to check if it is of limited combustibility (category 1) or not (category 2 or 3). This is in line with the requirement of the Building Regulations guidance. The filler is one element of the overall cladding system.

If the panel core fails the test we would expect the landlord to take the recommended interim fire safety measures issued on 22 June 2017.

The Panel will engage with experts across the country to consider whether these panels can be used safely as part of a wider building external wall system, and therefore could remain on a building under certain approved circumstances. If, in the meantime, a landlord chooses to take down and replace cladding, care should be taken to consider the impact that removal may have on the other wall elements, especially insulation, and therefore on the overall fire integrity of the building as well as other Building Regulation requirements.

Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-from-the-independent-expert-advisory-panel-30-june-2017

Grenfell tower Expert panel.jpg

The panel met for the first time on 30 June 2017, when they agreed the most immediate issues they will address.

It was confirmed that the panel will:

  • Focus on providing advice relating to fire and building safety, and in particular how to ensure the public are safe in high rise buildings.
  • Consider whether there are any immediate additional actions that should be taken to ensure the safety of existing high rise buildings.
  • Consider whether there are any changes or clarifications required to existing regulations, and provide advice on possible changes, including making recommendations on the use of specific materials.
  • Consider whether the current processes for checking building safety are fit for purpose, and whether any changes are required.

Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/expert-panel-on-safety-meets-for-the-first-time

On 6 July 2017, the Grenfell Tower independent expert advisory panel advised that further testing should be carried out by BRE to establish how different types of ACM cladding behave in a fire in combination with different types of insulation. This, they suggest will help landlords decide what further measures may be needed to make their buildings safe.

The tests will look at 6 combinations of 3 different types of ACM cladding, with polyethylene, fire retardant polyethylene, and non-combustible mineral cores, combined with insulation of rigid polyisocyanurate foam and non-combustible mineral wool. The tests will be carried out in accordance with BS 8414, and involve building complete cladding systems 9 metres tall and then subjecting them to a severe fire. The results will be made publically available, but landlords should take professional advice on the implications for their buildings.

Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/expert-panel-recommends-further-tests-on-cladding-and-insulation

At the third meeting of the Panel, they suggested drawing attention to the need to ensure recladding work complies with all Building Regulations’ requirements, including; structural safety, resistance to moisture penetration and build up, and energy - as well as ensuring fire safety. As a result, on 13 July 2017, a letter was sent from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to all building control bodies in England including approved Inspectors.

Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ensure-that-recladding-work-meets-building-regulations-advises-expert-panel

On 10 July 2017, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed that an industry response group (IRG) will be formed to help coordinate the construction industry’s response to implementing recommendations from the IEAP and government. For more information see: Grenfell Tower industry response group.

The first results of the full cladding system tests were revealed on 28 July 2017, when DCMS announced that a system comprising ACM cladding with polyethylene filler (Category 3) and foam insulation, with fire breaks and cavity barriers in place did not satisfy the requirements of the building regulations. 82 buildings are thought to have this combination of materials in their wall construction. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/first-systems-test-reaffirms-actions-for-landlords

In a statement, the Independent Expert Advisory Panel said:

This reconfirms the advice already provided to building owners about the immediate steps they should take to ensure buildings are safe. Landlords of buildings with cladding using the same combination of materials as in this first full scale test must now act on the additional advice they have been given since this test, to seek professional advice about any necessary remedial work.

On 2 August 2017, the government announced that the second series of tests had been completed, testing a system consisting of ACM cladding with a polyethylene filler (category 3) with stone wool insulation. The Expert Advisory Panel advised that the combination does not meet current building regulation guidance. There are 111 buildings known to use this system. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-fire-safety-testing-programme-continues

On 4 August 2017, The Times reported that in his previous role as chairman of the impartiality committee at Warrington Certification, panel chair Ken Knight had signed off a certificate for Reynobond FR, a more fire-resistant version of the Reynobond PE cladding used on Grenfell Tower. This certified the cladding as Class B, and suitable for use as facade cladding in certain situations, and for wall and ceiling applications. Warrington Certification pointed out that this did not constitute an approval, and that further tests were necessary for the cladding to be used. Ref https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/grenfell-inquiry-chief-sir-ken-knight-not-aware-he-was-director-of-fire-safety-firm-jswl0t5lk

On 8 August, results of the third series of tests was published, consisting of ACM cladding with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with PIR foam insulation. Again, the Panel advised that the combination of materials does not meet current Building Regulations guidance.https://www.gov.uk/government/news/further-results-published-from-governments-fire-testing-programme

On 11 August, the results of the fourth round of tests was published, relating to ACM cladding with a fire resistant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) and stone wool insulation (a form of mineral wool). The combination of materials passed the test and so can be compliant with the Building Regulations. Following the tests, Advice for building owners: large-scale wall system test 4 was published by the Panel.

On 14 August, the results of the fifth test, assessing ACM cladding with a limited combustibility filler (category 1 in screening tests) with PIR foam insulation were published. The Panel reported that these results show the combination of materials can comply with the building regulations. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/second-wall-cladding-system-passes-latest-government-fire-safety-test

On 21 August 2017, the results of the sixth large scale tests were published, revealing that a system consisting of ACM cladding with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with phenolic foam insulation did not satisfy the Building Regulations. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/latest-large-scale-government-fire-safety-test-result-published

On 25 August, the results of the final test were published, a system consisting of ACM cladding with a limited combustibility filler (category 1 in screening tests) with stone wool insulation. The Grenfell Tower independent expert advisory panel reported that this combination of materials can be compliant with the building regulations when installed and maintained properly. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-completes-large-scale-fire-safety-testing-programme


NB A Public Inquiry will also be held to establish the facts so that action can be taken to prevent a similar tragedy and to consider the wider lessons from the fire and the inspections of other buildings that followed. See Grenfell Tower Inquiry for more information.

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